Microbes in the News

Article Link:  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/28/health/microbiome-brain-behavior-dementia.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FBacteria&action=click&contentCollection=science&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection

Title: Germs in your gut are talking to your brain. Scientists want to know what they’re saying.

Date: January 28, 2019

Source: The New York Times

Author: Carl Zimmer

Summary: In this article, Carl Zimmer describes how scientists have begun considering the role of microbes in behavior and their connection to the brain. Recent evidence suggests that the microbiome could have connections to mental health conditions. Several experiments have been conducted to study this hypothesis. For example, a study conducted by Dr. Mauro Costa-Mattioli found that some mice that showed autism symptoms lacked a specific microbe. In other studies, the presence of microbes was associated with various brain related conditions.

Connections: As we covered in the history portion of class, our understanding of microbiology has increased over time and we have acquired an increasing amount of technology, which is monumental in our study of microbes. Although microbiologists in previous centuries have made fundamental contributions to our current knowledge, we are continually better equipped to make observations on the functions and effects of microbes. This article highlights this reality, as the author discusses how recently the hypotheses and research discussed have begun to be accepted. In class we have also discussed the prevalence of microbes and how we have barely scratched the surface on understanding all there is to know about them.

Critical analysis: Overall, I found it interesting that microbes could potentially be involved in brain components, as I have never considered this type of connection. I was compelled by the research that was mentioned in this article, especially concerning the suspected role of microbiology in depression and anxiety disorders. More specifically, one part of the reading that fascinated me was that mice that are given fecal transplants from individuals with major depression are more likely to demonstrate depressive tendencies.

Although the article was very intriguing, most of the comments were based on speculation, and consequently, there were a minimal number of concrete conclusions. The scientists that were included in the article recognized their lack of knowledge regarding the connection between microbiology and the brain, as well as the limitations of their research. However, this did not seem to take away from the scientific accuracy or importance of the research and the foundation it can provide for future studies. By recognizing the limits of the research, I think that the article communicated the information to the public well because it showed that science is not always as definitive as some people seem to think, especially upon initially exploring topics. Furthermore, the text was mostly void of scientific jargon and condensed into an easy to digest article.

Question: Relatively early in the article, the author asserts “none of these associations proves cause and effect’ regarding some initial research he describes. Considering this, can any of the research mentioned in this article strongly support a connection between microbes and brain and behavior mechanisms? If not, how might the role of microbes be incorporated into alternative hypotheses to explain their apparent associations with the brain?

1 Comment for “Microbes in the News”

emreast

says:

I read a similar article to this one about a study that connects gut bacteria to Parkinson’s medication while turning it into dopamine. I had also not considered this connection between gut microbes and the brain. I think it was an informative article, but I agree with you that it was somewhat vague as well. It was indeed very easy to read though and extremely interesting (especially the part about fecal transplants and depression).
In my opinion, I think that the research can support a claim for a connection between brain mechanisms and microbes. The article and research mentioned certainly doesn’t confirm it, but I definitely think that the idea is supported by it and similar studies. As with any relatively new/strong claims in science, it is being highly critiqued which I would say is appropriate. However, I see reason to look into this further and not dismiss the suggested connection.

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